9 Computer Cables You Should Know About

By Nicole Tinkham

Unless you’re a computer techie, you probably don’t know much about the different computer cables available. You may be familiar with USB and Ethernet cables but what’s the difference between a CAT 5e and a CAT 6? And what in the world are FireWires? We will explain these cables and more in this blog post so you can become the techie you’ve always wanted to be (kind of).

USB Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from unten44

You may have heard of the USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable before. That’s probably because just about every type of computer device (mice, keyboards, flash drives, etc.) can be connected to a USB port. Easy enough – except for the fact that there are multiple options to choose from. Let’s start with transmission speed.

  • 1.0/1.1: Transmits data up to 12 mbps (megabits per second)
  • 2.0: Transmits data up to 480 mbps
  • 3.0: Transmits data up to 4.8 gbps (gigabits per second)

Unsure on which speed to choose? We suggest going with the 2.0 as it’s the most common type. Aside from speed, there are also different sizes available.

  • Mini and micro: Used for smaller devices like cameras and phones.
  • Standard: Used on devices that stay plugged in like keyboards and mice.

USB cables can be found in a range of lengths (3ft – 16ft). If you can’t find one quite long enough, consider an extension cable. These allow connection to a device out of reach. There are also some specialty USB cables to consider like the PS/2 adapter which is able to connect a USB computer to a KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) switch or the parallel printer adapter which provides faster printing.

VGA Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from Phil Hawksworth

VGA (Video Graphics Array) cables are used to connect the computer to the monitor. These cables, created in the 80’s, are actually starting to disappear because everything is switching over to digital (instead of analog). You’ll know a VGA cable when you see it because there are 15 pins (3 rows of 5) that correspond to the three colors used in display: blue, green, and red. Also note that there is a laptop to TV VGA cable. To go along with VGA cables are accessories, such as extender kits and transmitters.

  • 4-Port transmitter: Allows you to split a single VGA signal into five.
  • Extender kits: These extend the VGA signal (up to 1,000 feet from transmitter) using Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables (see Ethernet cables for more info on Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables).
  • Two-position switch: This allows you to switch between two PCs using a single monitor (or two monitors to one computer).

DVI Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from bbnfb13

DVI (Digital Visual Interface) cables are the equivalent to VGA cables, only digital. As mentioned above, technology is moving more towards digital and away from analog. DVI cables are used to connect these high quality digital displays and (like anything else) there are a few different kinds to keep an eye out for.

  • DVI-A: Backwards compatible with VGA (can transmit analog signals)
  • DVI-D: Transmits newer digital signals
  • DVI-I: Can be used as either analog or digital

You may find that a converter cable (DVI-VGA or VGA-DVI) is also needed.


Image used under Creative Commons from 411buyitnow

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cables are able to send high quality video and audio signals. Unlike VGA and DVI, HDMI cables can send both signals together. Since these signals are digital, HDMI cables are only compatible with newer devices. You can find these cables in several different types (type A, type B, type C, and type D) and you will also find some specialties. HDMI 3D cables support the latest in media and gaming. There are also extender kits that are able to extend the signal over a long distance and adapters that allow you to connect an additional monitor to a computer.

Ethernet Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from Ben Sutherland

Ethernet (also called patch or network cables) are used to set up local area networks. They connect routers to modems and computers. You will often see CAT 5, CAT 5e, and CAT 6 Ethernet cables which can get confusing. Just remember: all these terms refer to is speed.

  • CAT 5: Speeds of 10-100 mbps
  • CAT 5e (or Cat 5 Enhanced): Speeds up to 1,000 mbps
  • CAT 6: Speeds of up to 10 gbps

You will also notice the words “snagless” and “molded” in the description for most Ethernet cables. This means they are more durable and the connectors are protected from damage.

IDE Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from thejud

IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) cables can be found in older hard drives. They connect the device to a motherboard. These are wide cables that almost resemble a ribbon with 40 pins on the connectors.

SATA Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from gcg2009

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) cables are used in newer hard drives. The difference between IDE and SATA cables is the faster transfer speed found in SATA cables (see the how they differ in the image above). Most motherboards out now are compatible with SATA cables. You know you have one of these cables if it has two connectors, each with 8 pins.

eSATA Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from PxlGeek

eSATA (External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) cables are similar to SATA cables, only external. Basically, they take the SATA technology and make it available in external form, ideal for external hard drives.

FireWire Cables

Image used under Creative Commons from rushaw

FireWires are much like USB cables in that they transfer data at a high speed. FireWires are ideal for scanners and printers, however, are not as popular as USB cables. As with other cables mentioned above, there are speed options when it comes to these.

  • 1394A: Speed of 400 mbps
  • 1394B: Speed of 800 mbps

As this is just a crash course to help you distinguish the various types of computer cables, there may be more technical information when it comes down to choosing a particular one. For further assistance in choosing a cable, please give us a call (941-747-2995), stop in, or leave a comment in the box below.



We are giving away two of these Innovera 4gb flash drives to two lucky winners! This blog post is featured on our Facebook page. Every ‘share’ from our Facebook page gets entered into a random drawing. To share the post, visit our Facebook page here. Under the post, you will see a ‘share’ link. All you have to do is click that link and share the post on your Facebook page! Two random winners will be chosen on Monday, August 12th at noon! Winners will be announced on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Good luck!

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